Local News: Holy Trinity Anglican Church will be holding an Ash Wednesday service in the chapel of St. Anthony Catholic School in Madison (1585 Mannsdale Road) on Wednesday, February 13 at 7 p.m. For more information, go to www.htacms.org.
Ash Wednesday is the official starting point for the season of Lent, which precedes the celebration of Easter. Though not frequently celebrated by Presbyterians in the past, a growing number of Presbyterian churches are finding the observation of Lent to be a beneficial practice. Among Protestants, especially those who didn’t grow up celebrating the season, there is much confusion about what this season is all about. To help clear up some of the confusion, the theme of this past Sunday’s question and answer segment on the Lutheran Hour was Ash Wednesday, which liturgical churches will be celebrating this Wednesday, February 13. Simply, the question was, “What’s the point of Ash Wednesday, and having ashes put on your forehead?”
Lutheran Hour speaker, Pastor Gregory Seltz, began by saying, “When people ask, ‘Does God want such things like the application of ashes on our heads, does He want it done?’ It's important to ask, ‘Do you mean, 'Does God need it done?’… If people think that the Christian church is saying that religious rites and rituals are demanded by God for a person to receive God's blessings, you know, ‘Put those ashes on, so that God will bless or forgive you because you've done what you need to do;’ they're missing the point, even asking the wrong questions. In Hebrews 10:8 it says that, ‘God despises false piety even when it involves doing something good.’ God's holiness can't be bought off with a sinner's best efforts.”
Though this is a season of religious ritual, Seltz rightly began by pointing out that the ritual is not a means to pacify God’s wrath against sin. Because the idea that our own works factor in to our right standing with God is so prevalent in society today, both in and out of the church, Seltz said,“It's important when we talk about any spiritual disciplines like prayer and fasting, tithing, serving the poor, or even disciplines of repentance like Ash Wednesday or Lent, it's important that we make sure that people know that Christianity is first and foremost a proclamation of what God has done for all people, by grace, without merit, works, or worthiness on our part.. . We love because God first loved us. We serve because God served us. All of our works, even our prayers and disciplines, flow from this one central truth.”
A central aspect of most Ash Wednesday observances is the part where people gather at the front and have ashes applied to their foreheads, as the minister often quotes Genesis 3:19—“Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." Seltz explained the purpose of the practice: “The action is a sign of repentance, a reminder of our utter need for our Savior. But, it reminds people not only for their need for God's grace but of the actions of Jesus Christ, especially on the cross for them, for all.”
Just as misconception exists regarding Ash Wednesday, much misconception surrounds the season of Lent as a whole. Seltz tried to help his listeners have better perspective: “A season like Lent is not just a time to ‘do without,’ it's a time to remember what really makes life work, what really is most valuable in our lives, our relationship to God! Ash Wednesday and the whole season of Lent is not so much a time of sorrow, but a time to repentantly focus, to put the peripheral items in life in their place. .. It is a call to see what Jesus' cross really means, a call to salvation that sticks, to forgiveness that holds. It's a call to live differently, with different priorities, different goals, different values, because of what Jesus has done for us.”
May God enable us to reflect on what is truly important during this season, and may he enable us to shed those distractions that, though not necessarily bad in themselves, are hindering us from even better things. May God use these weeks to draw us to closer to himself through Jesus.